Gotta love those annuals!

I’ve been away for a bit to eastern Ohio and then immediately on to Wisconsin, so I’ve been playing catch-up with the produce rather than writing since our return.  Immediately upon turning into the driveway, it was obvious that the gardens had changed while I was traveling.  Since those first warm days of spring, the reliable perennials have been carrying the load.  Of course none of them stay on the stage very long.  Most of them have short, but memorable performances and coming one right after another or sometimes overlapping to form an ensemble, they are deserving of applause.  When I left, the daylilies were stealing the show with a strong chorus of colors, heights and forms.  Now the annuals are the star attractions, and I am so thankful for them.

While most people are planting more perennials, I still count on my annuals to carry the show, especially from now until frost (usually early October.)  Oh, they’ve been contributing a lot already as bit players here and there as the perennials had the spotlight, polishing up their acts, gaining in volume and gradually getting bigger parts but now they are the headliners.  They will deserve that top billing and attention for weeks and weeks to come (as long as I keep them deadheaded!)  Here are the stars of the current show: Zinna Prof Dbl compressed Zinnia “Profusion Double Click Deep Salmon.”  These are much, much prettier than my photo.  The leaves weren’t blue when I compressed it!  They are really workhorses in my garden, blooming from May to frost with very little care.  They are almost self-cleaning, so require very little deadheading on my part.  I use them at the front of the border, as they get about 10-12″ tall and form graceful, fully filled mounds.  They come in a variety of colors and are easy from seed.  Next are my beloved snapdragons.  I’ve praised these “Liberty Bronze” snaps before, but they deserve even more!Snap Liberty bronze compressed  This year, with cooler temperatures and abundant rain, they have continued putting on a show since I planted them in late April.  The Liberty series has nearly every color in the rainbow, and are very easy from seed, but start them early (late January for me) for opening acts.  Our current weather has also been good for the nasturtiums, violas and calendulas, all of which areNast Tip Top Apricot compressed everyday bloomers in the potager.  I decided to add bits of blue here and there in the garden, blue being a partner across the color wheel for orange.  I chose this tall “Blue Horizon” ageratum, and it has been a wonder, blooming early and long.  It really is blue-blue, not purplish and makes a great cut flower.  Ageratum tall blue compressed  Just coming onto the stage, and still playing a supporting role is the self-seeded cleome, “Helen Campbell.”  Cleome compressed  As it gets taller and more abundant, cleome will be getting a larger role.  The same applies to the tall zinnias, which are just getting off to a good start.  Zinnia Inca compressed  Before you get the wrong impression, I must add that all annuals are not as talented as those I’ve shown so far.  I was very disappointed in Zinnia “Decor” which was supposed to be a blend of orange zinnias and lime-green zinnias.  Most of them were (horror of horrors!) like thisZinnia tall pink compressed  so they were cut from the act!!!  So were many of the “Pixie Sunshine” which were supposed to be dwarf (they were) and a mixture of white, yellow, and orange but in reality were magenta, red, or (gasp!) Zinnias pink compressed  another horrible pink!  Having failed their audition, I won’t be growing either of those again.  And also disappointing has been the “Perfume Lime” nicotiana which looked good early on, but seems to be getting very tired as the season progresses.  Nicotiana lime compressed  To get star billing in my garden, a plant must have endurance as well as beauty.  So, I’ll be scouring the seed catalogs over the winter, searching for some new talent.  Maybe I’ll find some at the upcoming Garden Writers’ annual conference, a great for talent scouts like me!

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But if you deadhead…..

After expounding upon the merits of deadheading in a recent post, it occurs to me that I need to also present another side of the issue.  Deadheading does produce more flowers overall, and does keep the plants and the gardens looking tidier and fresher, but there is one thing deadheading does not produce….SEEDS!  Yes, if you deadhead every flower as it fades, then there will be no seeds.  With many plants this is not a problem, because if they are hybrids, they won’t come true from seed anyway.  If there are more than one variety of peppers, or tomatoes, or squash, or zinnias or daylilies blooming at the same time, they won’t come true to variety either, but will be cross-pollinated and produce seeds that produce mystery varieties.  Often gardeners complain that after growing only one heirloom variety of tomato so they could save the seed, the harvest from those seeds the following year doesn’t resemble the original at all.  If one has neighbors within a bee’s flying distance, who might be growing a different variety of tomato, then very likely the tomatoes will be cross-pollinated and create a mixed result.  It’s not easy to save seed if you have near neighbors who grow similar crops, but not the exact same varieties.

So, I hear you asking….”What’s her point?  Isn’t she still arguing for deadheading?” My response is “Yes, but….!”  Overall, deadheading is the rule in my gardens, but with a few exceptions.  The first plant that is not always deadheaded is the lovely nasturtium.Nast Tip Top Apricot compressed  I grow lots of nasturtiums in various shades of apricot, orange and yellow.  They are just too gorgeous and reliable not to have in abundance in the potager.  I love to stuff their blossoms with a cheese mixture for a colorful appetizer, or make confetti of the petals to sprinkle over canapes.  (For recipes using nasturtiums, go to my website http://www.caroleesherbfarm.com and use the search feature.)  The flowers make a wonderful, flavorful herbal vinegar, and the flowers and leaves can be added to salads.  I do deadhead them periodically so they keep flowering all summer, but I skip a few plants so I can harvest these:  Nasturtium seeds compressed  Beautiful, crunchy, peppery nasturtium seeds that can be added to salads, marinades, stir fry, or pickled as a caper substitute.  One of my favorite recipes is this chicken dish with potatoes and nasturtium seeds, a one-skillet wonder that is quick and easy.  Chicken with potatoes & nasturtium seeds compressed Simply heat a bit of olive oil in a cast iron (or other oven safe) skillet.  Add 6 chicken legs or thighs that you’ve seasoned with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees while chicken browns.  Make a sauce by combining 1/3 c. olive oil, 2 smashed cloves garlic; 2 T. lemon juice; 2 T. coarsely chopped fresh nasturtium seeds; 1/2 tsp. pepper; 1 tsp. salt.  When chicken is browned, add 3-4 medium potatoes, cut into quarters.  Pour the sauce over and place in oven for 30-40 min., until chicken is done.  I wouldn’t want to be without nasturtium seeds, so various plants are rotated in the deadheading schedule.  I also often dry extra seeds to plant next year, and also to use as a pepper substitute.  Another plant that is allowed to produce seeds, and is also sometimes used as a pepper substitute is nigella.  Nigella compressed  Once the flower disappears it is replaced by a striking purple-streaked pod that is filled with black seeds.

Nigella pod compressed  They are welcome to self-seed throughout the potager interior borders, but I always harvest some of the seeds for culinary purposes, and I like the dried pods for winter floral arrangements.  Poppies are also allowed to self-seed in the potager borders, as are dill, calendula, borage, and cilantro because any surplus can easily be removed.   I do deadhead all the violas, which are great self-seeders because I’ve found that the orange ones I want for my edges rarely come back orange, and if I allow them to self-seed then my paths are filled with seedlings that must be removed.  I deadhead chives and garlic chives for the same reason.

In the flower gardens, deadheading is generally the rule until a few weeks before frost.  Then, the last blooms of cleome are allowed to set and drop seed.  I only grow the pristine white “Helen Campbell” variety, so I don’t have to worry about cross-pollinating, and none of my neighbors grow it.  The tall verbena on a stick can also self seed because it seems to always come true.  Because I use a fairly narrow color palette and prefer specific varieties, I’d rather start the other annuals each season with fresh seed, rather than risk ending up with a lot of muddy pinks or magentas.  However, if you want self-seeding annuals like larkspur and bachelor buttons, don’t deadhead all the flowers, but allow some to make seed.  And that, I hope, is the end of that!

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Six on Saturday-July 15

Alcosa cabbage 6-30-17 compressed  We had more rain this week, and cooler evenings which has made some crops, like savoy “Alcosa” cabbage very happy.  It will be ready to harvest soon.  With even more rain in the forecast, I decided to dig all the garlic after I found one bulb that had started to spoil.  It all went into the greenhouse with a shade cloth over it so the sun wouldn’t spoil the flavors, and once it dried so I could take off the mud, I’ve been braiding it as I have time. Here’s about 1/4 of the braids that are finished.  Once they’ve dried completely, I’ll tighten the twine, trim the tops, and hang them on the drying rack in the Lady Cottage.  Some of the bulbs are as big as my fist so it’s a great crop.   Garlic braids compressed  Having that harvest safely in made me very happy, and also made room in the beds for lots of squash, melon, and pumpkin plants that are loving this damp weather.Bread & Butter pickles compressed  One rainy morning, I canned the first cucumbers as “Bread and Butter” pickles.  They are on the shelf next to the elderflower syrup canned earlier this season.  And a bit later in the week, beans were canned as well.  You can’t tell, but there are three varieties: 4 cans of Royal Burgundy, 2 of Tendergreen, and 1 of Kentucky Pole beans.  It always makes me happy to have a good start on this winter’s food supply.  With peas, broccoli, snow peas, strawberries and black raspberries already in the freezer and the pantry shelves starting to fill, the potager is blessing us with bounty.  Green beans canned compressed  One evening without rain, I actually sat on the deck with wine and a new book to enjoy not only the dramatic colors but the enticing sweet fragrance of this “Sunset Salmon” four o’clock. Four O'Clock Sunset Salmon  It’s in a big planter between two chairs my father made for me years ago.  I recently learned that four o’clocks form a tuber like dahlias that can be dug and overwintered, so I am planning to store some later this autumn.  I definitely want these sweet smelling beauties again!  One afternoon, I decided to attack an especially weedy area near the new cutting garden.  Apparently, I sat in the same spot so long that these two vultures suspected I could be lunch and came in for a closer look! Turkey buzzards compressed  Not yet, Guys!  I’m old, but I’m not buzzard bait yet!  So those are six things that made me smile this week.  Thanks to The Propagator for suggesting this meme.

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Flower Shortbread and Deadheading

There are many good reasons to deadhead.  For those of you new to gardening, deadheading is the removal of faded flowers.  The first reason is that it immediately makes a garden look fresher, tidier, and happier.  Here’s a tiny corner of the potager containing violas and calendulas with lots of faded flowers.  See how tired it looks with  those beginning seed pods? Calendula faded compressed

And here it is minutes later, looking refreshed and ready to push all those tiny baby buds into flowers. DSC01465 Deadheading cool weather flowers like violas, nasturtiums and calendulas can encourage them to keep producing bountiful flowers and remain more compact as the weather heats up.  Visitors to my gardens often comment that their violas and pansies gave up weeks ago.  Deadheading is the key to longer production.

The second reason is more important, especially for annuals.  An annual’s sole purpose in life is to propagate.  Once a flower begins to fade, if it was pollinated, the plant immediately begins to spend energy turning that faded flower into a seed capsule.  And, once that plant has successfully produced seed it says, “Hurrah!  My job is finished.  Now I can retire and just enjoy the rest of the summer.”  But, if the faded flower is removed, the plant’s response is, “Wow!  I’d better produce some more flowers!”  The energy that would have been used to produce seed is spent making more flowers.  So, deadheading produces more flowers, especially in annuals.

Perennials have a much smaller bloom period, usually 1-3 weeks and then they are finished until they return next year.  If you don’t deadhead, you’ll have to look at those brown stalks and shriveled flowers until a strong wind blows them away or they turn to mush.  The energy that could have been used to produce stronger root systems and additional flowers next year is put into seed that you probably don’t want anyway.  It may not come true to form, or will fall down around the mother plant and eventually smother her.  The strong seed producers, like black-eyed Susans and coneflowers can soon take over an entire perennial border.

The third reason to deadhead is to keep that mulching chore you worked so hard at early in the season looking good.  A pile of wilted daylily or snapdragon blooms can soon make your lovely mulch almost disappear.  I still remember visiting Kew Gardens very early one morning.  The gardeners were embarassed that I was photographing in the rose garden before they had vacuumed up all the fallen petals.  Sometimes I actually love a drift of fallen petals, but usually what I see is waste.  And that brings me to reason number four.

Those of you who know me well, know that I hate to waste effort or product.  So, when I deadhead roses the petals go into rose water.  Calendula petals get dried for teas or go into oil for salve.  For pansies or violas, I throw the dark colored ones into one basket, the yellow and orange into others.  Then I make “colored flower sugar” by putting equal parts petals and sugar in a food processor.  The result is a beautiful sugar that I can sprinkle on top of buttered toast for Fairy Teas, substitute into sugar cookies, pound cake, etc.  Some of the flowers have a delicate flavor.  Here’s the Flower Shortbread recipe that I always made for “Viola Day” at my old herb farm.  It has become one of the family’s favorites!

Carolee’s Flower Shortbread

In food processor, mix ½ c. dark purple pansy or viola petals (be sure no harmful chemicals or sprays have been used on them).  I usually rinse them and dry between paper towels before I remove the petals from the stems.  Add ½ c. sugar, and process until petals are nearly the size of the sugar crystals.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Measure 1/2 c. purple sugar into a small mixing bowl.  Add ½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter and cream until light and fluffy. (With yellow petals I often add a bit of lemon zest, with orange petals, a bit of orange zest, etc.)

Add 1 c. all-purpose flour, mixing until dough is formed.  It will be slightly crumbly.  Pour onto a parchment covered baking sheet.  With clean hands, press dough into a 7” square.  With a floured knife, cut into 16 squares.  You may also want to make a design with the tines of a fork on each cookie.   Bake about 30 min, just until they begin to brown.  Cool.

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Six on Saturday-July 8

Participating in The Propagator’s meme, here are six things that made me smile today, even though we’ve had 7″ of rain in the past week!  Appropriately, Daylily “Big Smile.”

Daylily Big Smile compressed diamond-dusted and frilly! and from the potager, the season’s first tomato, “Sungold” is nearly ready to pick….Tomato Sungold 7-8-17 compressed actually, maybe it’s ready!  And then since last week, the first watermelon is forming, a “Mini Love.” Watermelon Mini Love compressed 7-8-17  New color arrived in the potager in the form of the blue nigella flowers Nigella compressed  I’d almost given up on them, as they usually bloom much earlier in the season, but happily they have finally blossomed.  One of my favorite plants, who doesn’t like this much rain, is putting on a brave front and looking proud…Silver Southernwood.  You should see it in moonlight.  Silver southernwood compressed  And sixth, the lavendins have joined the earlier lavenders in bloom and the slope smells heavenly! Lavender 7-8-17 compressed  That’s my six!  They made me smile, and maybe you grinned a bit, too.  I hope your garden is providing lots of joy.

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Succession Planting

Many people have questioned how and why the potager is so productive.  There are several reasons.  For example, good drainage from raised beds, deep soil, and continual weed removal are assets to productivity.  Good drainage means an earlier planting start for many cool weather crops in spring, and that helps productivity in several ways, especially here in Indiana where spring tends to jump quickly into summer.  I don’t have to wait to till, so I don’t have to wait to plant.  That means “early in, early out!”  And “early out” means there is ample time to plant another crop to mature in that space again.  Obviously, planting successive crops in the same space is called “succession planting.”  We are lucky here in Zone 5, that the season is long enough for 2, 3, and sometimes even 4 crops to be successively planted.  Here’s an example:  Bed 1 c compressed  This is bed 1-d, photo taken 3-31-17.  Already a band of “Little Marvel” peas is emerging on the left and right edges, with two rows of carrots and radishes (mixed) in the center.  Only the radishes are emerging at this point.  They are a “nurse” crop, helping keep the soil loose for the slower-germinating carrots, and also aiding as a spacing device because as the radishes are harvested, more space is available for the carrots, which won’t need to be thinned.  Here’s the same bed on June 16th   Bed 1 c peas gone compressed  The peas (picked 6/7, 6/10, 6/13 and finally 6/16) are already harvested, shelled, and eaten or frozen, and their space is ready for another crop.  The radishes have also been harvested, and you can also see the miserable germination rate on the carrots.  That’s one of those “penny-wise, pound foolish” cases.  I used some old, old carrot seed rather than waste it.  I’d have been wiser to invest in some new seed rather than waste my space.  But, all is not lost because between the carrots that did come up, I was able to place some paprika pepper plants.  Here’s the bed as it looks today: Bed 1 c 7-7-17 compressed  There is a double row of paprika peppers on the right side, carrots and paprika peppers in the center, and a double row of “Strike” beans (planted 6/16) on the left side.  Note that the peas came out 6/16 and the beans were seeded the same day.  The peppers will stay until frost, but the beans will be harvested and out in time to plant a fall crop of greens.  The carrots will come out soon, giving more space for the peppers.  Here’s another bed that transitioned further today.  Lettuce & winter squash 7-7-17  This is 2-d.  If you go back and look at the second photo, you can see a corner of it as it looked on June 16th.  It began in spring divided into thirds.  The top third was spinach, the middle third was fall-planted shallots, the bottom third is Black Seeded Simpson lettuce.  You can’t see it in the earlier photo, but as soon as the danger of frost was past, a top bit of spinach was harvested to make room for a “Mini Love” watermelon plant.  When the melon grew enough, a trellis was added and gradually all the spinach was harvested.  There is already a tennis ball sized melon formed.  Recently, the shallots were harvested making room for a “Honey Bear” winter squash.  You can barely see its darker green leaves peeking above the lettuce.  Since I wanted another squash plant in that bed, today I harvested enough lettuce to make room for it.  I’d been harvesting only the lower leaves, but it’s getting tall, so we’ll eat it all soon as wilted lettuce salad.  As soon as the melon is finished, cipollini plants will be set in and the trellis will fill with a crop of snow peas.  The two squash will fill the remainder of the bed until frost.  Here’s 3-d as it looks today:

Rain gauge compressed  It’s a 6′ x 6′ bed and this photo was taken from the north, so the center path flowers are on the top rather than the bottom.  You were confused until I clarified that, weren’t you?  The center was 3 rows of “Deerfield Purple Garlic” which I started digging today.  The right third, which you can’t see is “Gonzales” miniature cabbages.  The left third was two rows of cauliflower (and obviously 1 mislabelled broccoli!!! I hate it when that happens!) and a row of spinach on the far left.  When the spinach came out, curly parsley plants went in.  The cauliflower is gradually coming out, making space for “Delicata” winter squash, whose vines will also fill the former garlic space.  (Notice my brand new rain gauge, temporarily residing there.  I would still be out digging garlic, but the rain gauge is currently filling at a rapid rate!  Consequently, I’m in the shed writing this post.)

Throughout the potager as the garlic is being dug, mini-pumpkins or winter squashes  are being planted.  Where the shallots came out, okra plants and more melon plants went in.  The first crop of Royal Burgundy beans has been picked 4 times, and although it is still blooming and forming baby beans, it will probably come out later this month so more beets can go in.  The second crop of Royal Burgundy (where early lettuces were) and the third bean crop (“Tendergreen”) where early peas were will also be coming out to make room for more kale, kohlrabi, carrots, spinach, etc.  No space is left empty.  As soon as a crop comes out, compost is added and seeds or started plants go in.

Of the 40 beds, only the 4 planted in strawberries (2 June-bearing, 2 everbearing) do not have successive crops.  The edges along the center paths are the other exception, because they always remain in flowers, although technically they also have successive crops because they begin with species tulips, then violas are added, and then marigolds go in when the tulip foliage dies back.

I hope you practice succession planting, and if not that you will consider it.  The result is high productivity in a relatively small space.  Compared to the old-fashioned, traditional method of planting the entire garden at once in long rows, with a tiller space between each row this is easy-peasy, and believe me, I know because I’ve done years with both methods.  There is no way that I could handle all the weeding of the traditional method at my old age.  Now I grow twice or three times the crops in about a third of the space and weeding is quick, maybe an hour a week.  Deadheading takes longer…..but that’s another post.

 

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The Cutting Garden Begins

This week I began a new project, a Cutting Garden behind the potager.  You may recall my difficulty in cutting flowers from the proper gardens (See “Just Can’t Cut That” and Just Can’t Cut That 2″ for a reminder.)  The site is not ideal, because the topsoil has been scraped away during the process to make a level site for the potager, but it is fairly out of sight, is close for watering, and not in need of a lot of weeding (because in the year since its formation, not even weeds have grown successfully!)  There was already landscape cloth in place between it and the potager for a path, and some remnants of the mulch placed on the path last year still remain.  Earlier this spring, I put cardboard weighed down with boards on the slope in hopes of attracting lots of earthworms to begin “tilling” the soil.  It’s been looking like this since then (photo from the north end.)

Cutting Garden initial compressed

The first plants to go in were clumps of Black-eyed Susans and verbena-on-a-stick that were “edited” out of the Deck Garden a few weeks ago, and stuck in a wheelbarrow in a shady spot.  They looked pretty dismal by the time the rains stopped and I was able to plant them,  but they’ve been perking up gradually.  I cut the worst of the brown out, and sut some of them to about 6″ in height.  They are all growing new leaves and straightening up to vertical.

Cutting Garden 6-25-17 compressed  Photo from south end.

Then I added leftover annuals once the main planting of the “real” gardens was finished:  some zinnias, blue ageratum, orange gomphrena, blue salvia, tithonia, and cosmos.  I even planted the “orangiest” of those “Orange Cupcake” zinnias that turned out to be way more red than orange.  They may get pulled if I come up with other things I’d rather have.   An overgrown daylily in need of dividing from the Deck Garden also was plopped here and there to help with erosion, even though daylilies aren’t really good cut flowers, and a few leftover Chim-Chimnee rudbeckias, which are favorites.

When I cut back the May Queen Shastas after they finished blooming in the main gardens, some of the seeds were sprinkled in the Cutting Garden and they’ve already germinated but will need drastic thinning.  That’s the beige circle near the center.  There was no plan in the planting but rather just a “stick it in the ground and good luck” along with a pinch of fertilizer and a drink of water.  If there is no plan or design, it may help my reluctance to cut.  Then everything got a thick layer of mulch, and water every few days as needed.  It is looking better, but there’s not much to cut yet.

Cutting Garden 7-5-17 compressed

“Peach Passion” sunflowers have been seeded and are growing in pots in the greenhouse, and they will be added when they are large enough to hopefully survive the critters.  There is no fence around the Cutting Garden, and no plan for one.  I want to seed some dill and larkspur, and move some volunteer anise hyssop plants soon.  That’s about all I plan for this area this year.  I don’t have high expectations, but it’s a start and looks better than it did last year.  It gives me something to “throw darts at” and evaluate as I plan for next year.  We’ll see if more bouquets come into the house and my Lady Cottage…..or not!

 

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